The deal is an outgrowth of the pair’s partnership on the upcoming Nat Geo limited series “Genius: Aretha,” revolving around the life of legendary musician Aretha Franklin, whose prime catalog of recordings is largely owned by Warner Music Group.
The deal envisions projects for feature films, scripted TV series, documentary projects and short-form digital platforms. Imagine has significantly diversified its production operations over the past few years to incorporate documentaries as well as children’s fare and made-for-digital content.
Imagine principal Ron Howard has directed two high-profile music documentaries over the past four years: 2016’s “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years” and 2019’s “Pavarotti.” Imagine chairman Brian Grazer has led the diversification push that began with Raine Group’s $100 million investment in Imagine in early 2016.
“I’ve always looked for new ways to bring a story to life. This is my passion. Our new partnership with WMG gives us a new dimension to do exactly that – ignite emotion in stories,” said Grazer. “The content that lives inside songs gives life to a fresh sonic and cinematic power. Len Blavatnik is a visionary in the space and everyone at Imagine is thrilled to partner with him and his team. Thanks again to WMG, particularly Steve, Max (Lousada) and Charlie.”
Warner Music Group, controlled by investor Len Blavatnik and run by CEO Steven Cooper, went public last month at $25 a share. On Thursday, WMG shares closed at $29.35. Cooper said Warner Music Entertainment chief Charlie Cohen would collaborate with the Imagine team on shepherding projects.
“We’re excited to be partnering with Ron, Brian, and the stellar team at Imagine to bring to screens the captivating stories of our artists, our songwriters, and our labels,” said Cooper. “With a global roster of superstar talent and a rich musical history in our archives, we have great opportunities to marry music, narrative, and image through biopics, documentaries, and other visual platforms.”
Imagine said the deal with give the company “unprecedented access to a vast library of music and history across all of WMG’s record labels and its publishing arm.” The company said it would look across “genres and decades” for ripe projects in the Warner Music archives. The conglomerate is home to the legendary recorded music vaults of Atlantic, Asylum, Elektra, Reprise and Warner Bros. Records, among other notable imprints. Its Warner Chappell Music publishing arm controls more than 1.4 million copyrights.
Cohen came to WMG after a 25-year career at MGM where he rose to chief operating officer of the studio’s motion picture group. Since joining WMG he has developed “Genius: Aretha,” the recent Epix documentary “Laurel Canyon” and the HBO film adaptation of David Byrne’s Broadway show “American Utopia,” to be directed by Spike Lee.
“Genius: Aretha” features Tony winner Cynthia Erivo as the pathbreaking Franklin, the Detroit-born singer and composer who became a superstar in the 1960s and known as the Queen of Soul. The third installment of Imagine’s “Genius” scripted series franchise for Nat Geo is scheduled to begin its eight-episode run in November, although production on the series in Atlanta was halted in March amid the coronavirus lockdown.
(Pictured: “Genius: Aretha”)